Trudeau pledges federal probe into Quebec’s niqab ban

By on 30/10/2017
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said he does not agree with Quebec's niqab ban

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government will look into the implications of Quebec’s new law banning people from covering their faces when using or providing public services.

The controversial religious neutrality law, which was passed by the Quebec National Assembly on October 18, applies to provincial government departments, municipal authorities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities within the eastern Canadian province.

The law is the first of its kind in North America, and has been widely interpreted as targeting Muslim women who wear a ‘niqab’ face veil. As public bodies in Quebec struggle with how to apply the ban, it has caused a furore across Canada. According to Quebec’s justice minister, veiled women will be required to show their faces when accessing any public service that requires photographic ID.

PM’s concerns

“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” Trudeau said on 20 October, while campaigning in Quebec’s Alma constituency ahead of a by-election, according to CBC News.

“As a federal government, we are going to take our responsibility seriously and look carefully at what the implications are,” he said.

Asked if that would include taking the provincial government to court, Trudeau repeated that Ottawa was “looking carefully at the implications”.

“I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he added. “It’s what Canadians expect of me.”

Trudeau’s comments marked a shift from his remarks the previous day on the campaign trail in Roberval, Quebec.

“It’s not up to the federal government to challenge this, but we will certainly be looking at how this will unfold with full respect for the National Assembly,” he said.

“The federal government has an obligation to accept the fact that the provinces have a right to pass their own legislation, but as you know full well, as a Liberal, at the federal level, I believe fundamentally in rights, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I will always defend that. And that applies to everyone in Canada.”

Strong support in Quebec

The Francophone province’s ruling Liberal Party pushed the law, known as Bill 62, through the Quebec National Assembly by a vote of 66 to 51, with the opposition Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec voting against on the grounds that it did not go far enough.

The outcome of a decade-long debate within Quebec about how to accommodate religious minorities, the law covers civil servants and public sector workers including doctors, teachers, and care workers and as well as the recipients of public services.

It was extended to services provided by municipal authorities, including public transit networks, in an amendment made in August.

As reported by The Globe and Mail, Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard said of the new law: “A covered face isn’t only about religion. You speak to me, I speak to you. I see your face, you see mine. It’s part of communications. It’s a question in my mind that is not solely religious, it’s human.”

A poll conducted in September found that 87 per cent of Quebeckers back the legislation, while it is opposed by Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre, the Union of Quebec Municipalities, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Muslim organisations and civil rights groups.

What face covers law covers

Amid widespread confusion about how the ban would work, Quebec’s Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée was forced to issue a list of situations in which it would apply.

Website thestar.com reported that Vallée said veiled individuals must remove their niqab when using a photographic ID, including bus passes, library cards and the ID required to register for health services.

France, Belgium and Austria all have laws banning face coverings in public places.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

3 Comments

  1. Karen

    30/10/2017 at

    I see absolutely nothing wrong or discriminatory about this law. Wearing the face covering has nothing to do with religion but more with cultural choices. This law is nothing but common sense…if you require or give public services, why should your full face not be shown? For those who feel the need to dress in this manner, and get bent out-of-shape when common sense is put forth, then you chose the wrong country to live in.

  2. adele rachid

    30/10/2017 at

    permettre le port du Niqab dans une société c’est permettre de banir les droits de la femme. Ce qui est ridicule c’est d’évoquer le droit et liberté de la charte. pour permettre à ces femmes de renoncer à leurs droits….quel droit a-t-on quand on n’a pas de visage et qu’on n’a pas d’existence qu’à travers l’angle qu’on nous impose…ces femmes ont besoin d’être protégées par une loi d’interdiction..elles s’y conforment parce qu’elles n’ont pas d’issue que celle que ceux dont elles dependent leur imposent ….

  3. sydney michelle

    30/10/2017 at

    Retinal scan. No need to show face. Or thumbprint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *